A Baker's Dozen
By Norma Ritter
Big Flats NY USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 1, January-February 2003, p. 33
Have you ever found yourself gazing into the windows of an old fashioned bakery, where they make bread from scratch in a variety of beautiful shapes? Do you smell the freshly-baked bread wafting out the door and think, "If only I could make bread like that." You can!
Despite the mystique, the skill of baking bread can be learned quickly. Once you understand the basic steps, you can vary the ingredients. I am sharing my own favorite recipe (see box) and you can also find others in LLLI publications such as Whole Foods for the Whole Family.
Anyone can create a variety of bread shapes and sizes because dough lends itself to creating beautiful art. It can tempt the eye as well as the nose and the mouth! Before attempting various shapes, here are some helpful hints:
- Bread flour, also known as high gluten or strong flour, produces the best "crumb." If whole wheat bread flour is not available where you live, buy plain gluten flour at the health food store and add one tablespoon to each cup of flour used.
- Unless you want a very heavy, dense bread, do not substitute low-gluten flours for more than one-third of the total flour used. Low-gluten flours include rye, buckwheat, and oatmeal. You can make your own flour by grinding grains in the blender or food processor.
- You can vary the flavor of bread by using juices and soups instead of water. Milk makes bread softer.
- Oil makes the dough more elastic and keeps bread fresher longer.
- Honey helps the yeast to work, keeps the bread moist, and is a natural preservative.
- Bread without salt tastes flat.
- You can brush liquid on the outside of the dough before cooking it (also known as a crust wash). For example, water makes a crisp crust, egg creates a more brown crust, and milk makes the crust softer.
- For toppings, use any kind of seeds, flour, or oats.
After the first rising, your dough is ready to be shaped. Punch down the dough, make the desired shape, and let rise again. Place on flat cookie sheets unless otherwise stated. Some bread shapes include the following:
Free-form loaves: form dough into any desired shape.
Pan loaves: roll out the dough into a rectangle, then roll up tightly, seal the ends and place in a loaf pan.
Stuffed loaves: roll out dough into a long rectangle and spread with sweet or savory fillings such as fruit preserves or herbs. Roll up tightly and seal the ends.
Braided: divide dough into three, roll into ropes, and braid. Bake on a cookie sheet or in a loaf pan.
Spirals: form dough into one long rope: Coil into a round pan.
Cottage loaves: remove a fistful of dough and make into a ball. Form the remaining dough into a large ball and make a deep indentation in the center into which you place the small ball of dough. Place in a round pan.
Rolls: these are all baked on flat cookie sheets except for clover leaf rolls. One pound of dough makes four large rolls, six medium, or eight small ones.
Hamburger: form six flat round buns.
Hot dog: form six cylindrical shapes.
Mini braids: divide each piece of dough into three, roll into ropes, and braid (makes six).
Knots: form each piece into a long rope and tie into a loose knot (makes six or eight).
Crescents: roll one pound of dough into a circle and cut into six wedges. Roll them tightly starting at the widest end of the wedge and curl slightly inwards.
Clover leaf: divide each piece of dough into three and form into balls. Place three balls into each muffin cup (makes six).
Pretzels: roll each piece of dough into a long rope and form into a pretzel. Brush with water and sprinkle with salt (makes six or eight).
Try the recipe listed in the box for starters. When you're ready, have fun experimenting with shapes of pans, flours, washes, and toppings. Enjoy your fresh, homemade bread!
My Favorite Bread Recipe
In a large bowl, mix the following thoroughly:
5 cups bread flour
Add and mix:
Start kneading, adding enough flour to prevent sticking. Make into a ball and cover with a clean cloth. Let rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk (about an hour). Turn onto floured surface, punch down, and divide in half. Form into desired shapes and place in greased pans. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise again until doubled (about 40 minutes).
Heat oven to 350° F (180° C). Brush loaves with beaten egg or other toppings. Bake for 40 minutes, turning back-to-front half way through baking time. Bread is done when it sounds hollow to a tap on the bottom.
Place on racks to cool and protect from hungry children and adults.